5 Tips for Starting Medical School
I remember well the days/weeks leading up to starting medical school. I was so very excited, but also there is that small feeling of dread. You know from this site and anyone who has went through it – medical school is tough! Here are 5 tips I think will make your transition just a little less painful!
1. Get Settled In:
You probably have moved to a new town, with a new place to live. It may be a familiar, or you may be in a place you’ve never lived in before. One of the first things I’d recommend is to get fully settled in to your new place. Get all those boxes unloaded. Get your closet organized. Put all your clothes and dishes away. Make sure your car has a fresh oil change. Drive around for the nearest library, Starbucks, or carry-out Chinese. Familiarize yourself with as much of your new landscape as you can. Plan your driving route from home to the medical center. Take a tour and visit the medical library.
Then make sure to complete every last item on your “to-do” list. Once medical school starts, it starts fast. There is no “syllabus week.” The reading load can be a bit overwhelming. It helps not to have various chores or tasks still do get done once it starts. And if you’ve moved and don’t get a box unpacked before class starts, I’d bet it’ll still be packed up when its time to move again a few years later.
2. Make New Friends:
Medical school can be a great time for your social life. What? Yes it can. Some of my best friends I met in medical school. But it’s probably not going to be anything like the social life you had in college. Your college friends may not even understand why in undergrad you never missed “Two-Dollar Tuesday” but now can’t even find time to get away on a Saturday night.
Your medical school friends will understand though. They will be with you on the 10th hour of studying. The day you fail your first test (most students WILL fail one exam 1st semester). There is something satisfying about being able to complain about how hard medical school is, yet in the next sentence talk about how great it is to be there. Few people truly understand that! So when there are social events, go to them! Meet the fellow medical students, you will instantly have much in common. In my anatomy “group” we would go to get ice cream every Friday after class. I have been in 2 of my med school classmates weddings. Find those same friendships and support each other!
3. Learn how to ACTUALLY study:
Medical school can be a shocking eye open to just how smart you actually aren’t. Well technically that’s not true, you got into medical school, you are very smart. The problem is so is everyone else. Every other medical student graduated with honors somewhere, or was top of class somewhere else, or ace’d the MCAT.
I graduated from high school with a 4.0 without trying. I graduated from college with a 4.0 by trying but only when I wasn’t too busy living the TFM lifestyle (before TFM was actually even a thing). When I went to medical school, I assumed it would be hard, but largely the same outcome. Man did I get my a$$ kicked.
I remember the first time I ever failed a test – 3rd anatomy exam – I failed so bad I had to literally calculate if I could even pass the class now (I ended up passing by the skin of my teeth). The problem wasn’t that I wasn’t still smart, it was that I had always been smart enough to get by without ever learning how to ACTUALLY study. Like really study. It took me that first semester to learn a lot of things, but #1 was how to study.
Some day I’ll do a whole post on what I think the best way to study is. But the short version:
- Spend half the time you have reading and taking notes over the material, then spend the next half doing practice questions over that same material.
- Do HUNDREDS of practice questions.
- Add any questions you miss to your notes.
- Review your notes repeatedly the couple days before the test to saturate short term memory.
- Save your notes for the final or future clinical rotations.
Once I started doing the above method, I went from barely passing anatomy my first year, to regularly receiving high pass/honors at our school. Whatever study technique ends up working for you is fine, but it’ll probably be a different and more rigorous method than you were used to before.
4. Ask for help if you need it:
This is also a big one. Once I realized I was struggling, it wasn’t until I totally bombed a test until anyone else realized it. After that, I couldn’t hide from the fact I wasn’t keeping up like I should have. I couldn’t ignore anymore that my study techniques weren’t working. I was called into the Dean’s office (who was also the anatomy prof) and he asked how long I knew I wasn’t doing well. I said I was surprised – which was a lie we both knew. But he was a great instructor and mentor, and just asked me about how I was studying. The major issue he felt, was I wasn’t doing practice questions, and if I wasn’t doing practice questions, there was no way for me to even know if I was retaining the material. Made sense.
So for the last exam (do or die for me passing) I did every freaking practice question I could get my hands on for that material. Then on test day, I kept feeling like I’d seen the questions before, and I ended up doing just fine. Two things were learned, if I would have asked for help earlier, I would have saved myself from a lot of stress. AND when it comes to the amazing amount of material in medicine, practice questions are the best way to know if you are learning whats important and tracking your progress.
5. Remember why you are there:
The first two years of medical school are daunting and mostly filled grinding hours away studying. It can be easy to get caught up on one histology slide after another, or memorizing the Kreb’s cycle yet again, and forget that you went into medicine because of PEOPLE.
When you’re having a bad day, remember your personal statement for medical school. I doubt it said anything about constant book study and little personal interaction. But that’s what the first couple years can be like. Look for opportunities to get some clinical experience when you can. Most centers will have a sponsored free clinic you can volunteer at an afternoon or two a month. In the summer after 1st year, find a shadowing program. That was one of my smartest decisions – spending 6 weeks that summer following around a variety of physicians. I learned a ton, but most importantly was re-energized in the love of clinical medicine again.
What do you think are some helpful pointers for starting med school? Add in the comments below!
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